Cooking with Dried Mushrooms

Cooking with Dried Mushrooms

Dried mushrooms have intense flavor. Mushrooms are mostly water, so when all of the moisture evaporates, the flavor becomes highly concentrated. When choosing mushrooms, look for large pieces with a uniform and dark color, since darker dried mushrooms usually have more flavor. Avoid dried mushrooms with tiny holes in the flesh, which may indicate that bugs have been living there, If possible, smell dried mushrooms before you buy them. They should have a deep and rich aroma.

The variety of dried mushroom you choose will, of course, depend on the dish, but here are three ideas to get you started. If you are making a cream sauce or a veal or poultry dish, consider dried morels. These darlings of the dried mushroom world have wonderful earthy flavor and meaty texture. For Chinese dishes, consider dried shiitakes, also called black Chinese mushrooms. They have tough stems that should be cut off and discarded after soaking (or you can add them to stock for flavor). For polenta, risotto and other Italian dishes, try dried porcini mushrooms. Their rich, earthy taste marries well with most Italian flavors.

When storing, keep dried mushrooms in the freezer, where they will be safe from insect infestations and use within a year. To prepare, soak each 1/2 ounce of dried mushrooms in 1/2 cup hot tap water for 10 minutes. Pluck out the reconstituted mushrooms with a slotted spoon, leaving the liquid in the bowl. Squeeze the mushrooms with your fingers to release as much of the liquid as possible back into the bowl. The mushrooms will have given up much of their flavor to the soaking liquid, but you can chop them and add them to the recipe for texture. Strain the soaking liquid through wet cheesecloth or a damp coffee filter to remove any grit. The liquid will be highly flavored, especially when re-hydrating porcini mushrooms. Whenever possible, add this mushroom "liquor" to the recipe, replacing other liquids in the recipe if necessary. Freeze any leftover soaking liquid to flavor sauces, stews, braises and risottos.

In order to retain more flavor in dried mushrooms when soaking, re-hydrate them in cold water instead of hot. It will take longer, but more flavor will remain in the mushrooms. This re-hydrating technique is especially useful if you are using only the mushrooms, and not the soaking liquid, in a recipe.

Another way to use dried mushrooms without soaking them is to grind them into a powder that can be added to a recipe as a seasoning. (No worries about grit this way, either, any grit in the mushrooms will be ground so finely and it will be unnoticeable). Dried mushroom powder can be sprinkled into a sauce, a stew or a soup. It will swiftly season a breading for fried chicken as well as the gravy that is served with it. Dried mushroom powder can be added to salad dressing or pasta dough or sprinkled into simmering rice. To make it, coarsely chop a few dried mushrooms, place them in the well of a mini food processor or other small-size food processor, and process in pulses until finely chopped (you can also use a clean propeller-blade coffee grinder). Then, process continuously until the mushrooms turn into powder. Store in a tightly closed container indefinitely.

When drying fresh mushrooms, choose unblemished, very fresh mushrooms (wild or domestic) and slice about 1/4" thick. Place on a rack and set in a convection oven set to 100oF or a conventional oven set to "warm" or 120oF. Warm until the mushrooms are dry, about 8 hours.

If you need to save on the soaking time, use boiling water instead of hot tap water. Soaked in boiling water, most dried mushrooms will re-hydrate in 10 to 15 minutes. When you use boiling water, more flavor will be released into the soaking liquid, so be sure to add the soaking liquid to the recipe, if possible. Dried mushrooms can also be soaked ahead of time. Soak them in cold water, then store them in a covered jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Warning : Only mushroom experts should pick or use fresh mushrooms in the wild. Identifying mushrooms in the wild can be very tricky, and some varieties are poisonous and is fatal.

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